Jennifer Doudna named citation laureate for development of gene-editing method

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The Intellectual Property and Science division of Thomson Reuters has named UC Berkeley chemistry and molecular and cell biology professor Jennifer Doudna as a citation laureate for her development of the CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing method.

Doudna and her CRISPR-Cas9 co-discoverer, Hannover Medical School in Germany professor Emmanuelle Charpentier, were nominated as chemistry citation laureates. Citation laureates are nominated based on the rate of citations of their papers in the Thomson Reuters database, a collection of more than 60 million papers. Thomson Reuters hopes to demonstrate that citations can be used as a predictor of influence and thus as a indication of a Nobel Prize-winning author.

“Only a small fraction are cited at levels that we typically see (of) winners of the Nobel Prize,” said David Pendlebury, a citation analyst at Thomson Reuters.

In Doudna’s case, in addition to a high rate of citations on her paper about CRISPR-Cas9, her technique is “one of these exceptional cases where we have a revolutionary technique that has already changed the field, and has great potential,” Pendlebury said.

Doudna researched how the Cas9 protein in bacteria targets a virus and then modified the protein to work in human cells, allowing scientists to target specific genome sequences.

“The big jump that our lab made was figuring out how that targeting worked and recognizing that you can then use this in a genome-engineering context,” said Alexandra Seletsky, a graduate student who works in the Doudna Lab.

Doudna’s discovery could help make gene therapy more practical, according to Robert Sanders, a campus science and technology spokesperson. In addition to gene therapy, Cas9 could help researchers understand hereditary diseases and the function of specific genes.

“It’s a really revolutionary technique. Up until now, people have been able to alter and cause mutation in genes. However, it’s taken a lot of time,” Sanders said. “CRISPR makes it much, much easier to do that.”

This year, Thomson Reuters named four female citation laureates — a distinct change in the makeup of their candidates. From 2002-14, only six women were chosen.

“Over the years, I’ve been seeing more and more women as the leading authors and pioneering discoveries of these papers,” Pendlebury said.

While being named a citation laureate is not a confirmation that a candidate will receive a Nobel Prize, over the past 13 years, Thomson Reuters has correctly forecast 37 Nobel laureates in four of six Nobel Prize categories. With regard to Doudna’s work, Pendlebury has high hopes.

“It seems to me like the kind of discovery that the Nobel Prize will recognize, whether this year or another,” Pendlebury said.

Doudna is traveling and could not be reached for comment.

Contact Grace O’Toole at [email protected].

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Thomson Reuters has correctly predicted 27 Nobel laureates over the past 13 years. In fact, the firm has correctly predicted 37 Nobel laureates during that time.

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